WILMINGTON — Kathy Jennings, a veteran of the Delaware Department of Justice, handily won a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, while Rehoboth Beach commissioner Kathy McGuiness defeated two other Democrats to claim the party’s nod for auditor.
Meanwhile, Scott Walker triumphed over Lee Murphy, 53 to 47 percent, to earn the Republican Party’s nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ms. Jennings, the former state prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general, earned 56.6 percent of the vote. LaKresha Roberts picked up 21.6 percent of the vote, while Chris Johnson pulled in 15 percent and Tim Mullaney received 6.8 percent.
In the race for auditor, Ms. McGuiness picked up 41.9 percent of votes cast. Kathleen Davies earned 34.9 percent and Dennis E. Williams received 23.2 percent.
Both the auditor’s and attorney general’s offices are open: Democratic Attorney General Matt Denn opted not to seek a second term due to the rigors of campaigning and a desire to spend more time with family, while Auditor Tom Wagner is retiring after 29 years because of health concerns. Mr. Wagner’s decision means Democrats have a good chance to flip the seat, potentially leaving the GOP with only one statewide office.
Ms. Jennings has pledged to undertake significant reforms in the Department of Justice, such as ending cash bail, providing more services for ex-offenders leaving prison and building trust between communities and law enforcement, with an eye toward cutting the incarceration rate in half.
She greatly outraised her primary opponents, pulling in nearly $475,000 this year as of last week, more than three times what the other three received combined.
Throughout the campaign, she has leaned on her experience, emphasizing her track record both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. She came under fire at points from Mr. Johnson, who attacked her at a debate last week, saying she had flip-flopped on several positions, was disliked by deputy attorneys general and upheld the status quo during her years with the Department of Justice.
Ms. Jennings will face Bernard Pepukayi, the GOP nominee, in November.
“With the election of Kathy Jennings as the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Delaware has chosen to put criminal justice reform at the top of the ballot in November,” American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae said in a statement. “At the forums sponsored throughout the primary campaign, she committed to making policies and practices in the Department of Justice more transparent, including expanding access to data that can be used to transform the criminal justice system and establishing a Community Accountability Committee.
“The ACLU of Delaware applauds these initiatives. She also committed to support proposals to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, to eliminate consecutive sentencing that results in unnecessary jail time and to oppose reinstatement of the death penalty. These commitments are important to reducing mass incarceration in Delaware.”
Ms. McGuiness, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nod for lieutenant governor in 2016, will compete with Republican James Spadola in two months.
Mr. Walker’s win in the House primary is arguably the most surprising result of the evening. He ran for the same office as a Democratic candidate in 2016 and picked up just 5 percent of the vote. He’ll attempt to deny Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester a second term in two months.
The Delaware Republican Party chairman had dismissed Mr. Walker as unqualified.
“Completely and utterly shocked,” said party Chairman Mike Harrington Thursday after it became apparent Mr. Walker, a former landlord who said he owns a flower-planting business, would triumph. “I wouldn’t have thought someone who just put out some campaign signs that didn’t even say what he was running for could have won. To say I’m surprised is an understatement.”
As for whether the party will embrace Mr. Walker ahead of the midterm, Mr. Harrington said simply, “He’s a Republican.”
Encouraging voters at the Delaware Technical Community College Terry campus polls in Dover to cast their ballots for Ms. Roberts in her bid to be attorney general, Asi Ofosu of Dover said her candidate had the best plan to decrease the prison population.
“I believe that she’s the candidate who has the political will to truly make changes to end the school-to-prison pipeline and ultimately reduce recidivism,” said Ms. Ofosu.
Conceding that the Democrat candidates in the four-way primary had a lot of similarities, Ms. Ofosu said Ms. Roberts’ experiences set her apart.
“She’d be the first African American woman in this position and she’s currently the chief deputy in the Department of Justice — appointed by Matt Denn,” she said. “She has the experience that’s so important to running that department. She knows the problems and has great ideas for solutions.”
Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm applauded the outcome of the primary, saying the ticket voters selected “is a formidable one that from top-to-bottom has the best interest of Delawareans at heart.”
Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.